Salesmen used to make a living selling enormously expensive multi-volume encyclopedias which would tell you everything you needed to know about everything. Then came the vastly cheaper pocket-size CD ROM. And now there’s the Internet, for the price of a telephone call. Suddenly, knowledge seems cheap and accessible.
If we’re to believe the World Bank’s recent report, Knowledge and Development, after several millennia of human intellectual endeavor, we’ve come of age. In fact, the Bank has taken to calling itself the "knowledge bank," as if it were the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Yellow Pages rolled into one – a kind of modern version of that optimistic Victorian institution, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. It’s the proud possessor of "an unparalleled reservoir of knowledge … accumulated over the past 50 years in more than 100 countries." And thanks to the Internet, it can finally share this reservoir with the rest of us.